TCANZ 2010 day 2 – Intranet publishing with Drupal

I’m attending the TCANZ Conference 2010 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Daish and Matthew Hunt presented a session on “intranet publishing with Drupal, an open-source content management system”. These are the notes I took during the session. All credit goes to Chris and Matthew. Any mistakes are mine.

The session was about Drupal and its use as an intranet. Drupal is a modular, open-source content management framework.

It’s an enormously versatile tool. Chris compared it to a Swiss army knife. When you implement a system on Drupal, you choose just the modules you need.

Looking at CMSes in general, at one end of the spectrum you have huge, complex, expensive CMSes. At the other end of the spectrum are things that offer really just the promise of a CMS. Drupal sits neatly in the middle. It offers flexibility as well as some useful pre-built parts.

A few stats

Drupal started in 2001, with modest beginnings as a bulletin board. Now there are estimated to be over 7 million sites running Drupal, and about 2000 developers at any one time contributing to the core Drupal software. The Monty Python website is built on Drupal!

It’s a very healthy open-source project and one that Chris can confidently recommend to clients.

Why would you consider Drupal for your intranet?

  • It’s open-source.
  • You can start small. You don’t need a huge amount of technical expertise to roll out a small Drupal installation to a couple of business units, and learn from there. Then you can expand it as you go.
  • It’s a child of the social networking era. A lot of the features built into Drupal are about social networking and knowledge sharing. It’s a really good fit for organisations that want to share information via an intranet.
  • It offers excellent taxonomy support, via controlled vocabularies, tagging and different ways to classify your content. You can drive your entire intranet using metadata.
  • It’s flexible and adaptable, because of its modular nature.
  • It’s an active project, so it can react quickly to technological advances and also to your changing business needs.
  • There’s a lot of support information out there, including a number of books about Drupal, forums where you can get answers very quickly, and online documentation.

Example sites

Chris showed us some examples of intranets he and the team had put together using Drupal.

  • CEO (Chief Electoral Office) – A site for managing elections. This is a very simple site that people in the field can use to do things like order forms, find contact information and read the news and alerts. It was pretty much Drupal out of the box, and does its job very well.
  • The next web site was a more active site that encourages people to contribute content to the intranet, by displaying prominent buttons on the front page. It also displays live Twitter feeds and hooks into the IT support system.
  • The People’s Times, which is a way for small clubs and societies to generate their own websites. Drupal can spin off these websites very easily and economically.
  • A site for an organisation that encourages teaching excellence in the tertiary sector. The site allows teachers to have their own space to share techniques and hold discussions.
  • Chris walked us through a case study of the way he used Drupal for the REAA (Real Estate Agents Authority). At that time, the REAA was a new organisation set up to regulate the real estate agent industry. The organisation faced a number of challenges, because there were a number of new processes that they had to put in motion and impose upon the estate agents. They needed tools to support the processes and call centre, and to get everyone registered by the deadline. Chris used Drupal to build a number of systems for REAA, including a knowledge base and an intranet.

How to get your Drupal site going quickly

Now Matt took over, to look at the shortcuts you can take to kick start your own Drupal installation.

  • Open Atrium is a pre-configured installation of Drupal, tailored to act as an intranet. It includes blogs, calendar, a Twitter-like sharing mechanism, areas for specific groups and a project tracker. You can get a site up and running very quickly. Just a few hours, and you’re on a roll. Open Atrium was originally developed for the World Bank, and is now available to all.
  • Drupal Commons provides an installation profile based on social media. It creates a massively social site where you can create your own networks. It’s geared towards Facebook, LinkedIn and commercial products like Jive.

More about core Drupal features

Matt gave us more information about the core Drupal features that come out of the box.

  • Basic search, plus the faceted search add-on that ties in with your taxonomies. The built-in Drupal search does not index attached files or multiple sites. The faceted search includes these abilities too.
  • Workflow. Drupal offers rules and workflow. You can define your specific workflow, such as the states, the affected content types, and the user roles that are able to perform each step.
  • Taxonomies. You can set up controlled vocabularies, keywords, hierarchical taxonomies.
  • RSS feeds. You can build feeds from your content, using taxonomy terms or your front page, for example. You can also integrate external feeds, to create content, users, taxonomy terms. For example, your Active Directory server can send you a feed that you use to create users on Drupal.
  • Integration. The Drupal framework can integrate with various systems such as document conversion from Microsoft Word (via Docvert, a freely available conversion via Open Office). Drupal will also integrate with other content management systems like Alfresco, KnowledgeTree and Nuxeo.

My impressions

Drupal is a very solid tool indeed. I haven’t seen much about it before, so I was delighted to have this useful introduction. Thank you Chris and Matthew!


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 4 September 2010, in open standards, technical writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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